Monday, 11 February 2013

Some Pictures from Against Nature

I don't presume to imagine that any of this will necessarily be of interest to anyone but myself; and I'd rather not give the impression that I'm sat here in my silk dressing gown next to a roaring log fire, smoking a cigar and bidding the reader enter as I unleash the mighty force of my after dinner repartee; but there are those who might appreciate a few minor cues or DVD extras of this kind, and it took me ages to forge the picture of House Meddhoran, so...

Against Nature is, roughly speaking, four stories woven into one, each complementing the others in terms of Nahua-Mexica lore whilst hopefully retaining its own distinct character. For the sake of consistency I wrote the initial draft of each section in one session, meaning that I wrote all of Primo's episodes, then all of Todd's, and so on before knitting everything together to make up the thirteen chapters. This was done so as to aid my keeping track of what everyone was doing, and to avoid the bleed through of narrative voice from one section to another. Each section was written with specific images used as desktop background or screensavers - something to set the mood, to remind me of who I was describing and what their world looked like.

This is the main square of San Miguel Coatlinchan, a small town roughly forty kilometres east of Mexico City and the home of Primo. The Nahuatl name of the town roughly translates as House of the Serpent or Serpent Maw, both cave metaphors in reference to its being where the sun once appeared to emerge from the underworld each morning as seen from the viewpoint of other major centres in the Valley of Mexico. Coatlinchan is historically where Acamapichtli, the first ruler of Tenochtitlan was afforded refuge by Lord Acolmiztli when hiding from the Tecpanecs, the dominant power of the Valley during the early 1300s. The sculpture is actually a replica of one unearthed in Coatlinchan but now stood outside INAH in Mexico City. I haven't been to Coatlinchan personally, although I have been to INAH and seen the sculpture many times. It dates from the Teotihuacan era and is popularly believed to depict either Tlaloc or Chalchihuitlicue, respectively Deities of rainfall and running water.

In the previous draft of Against Nature, Todd worked at a company called JMB Restoration which, for no particular reason, I situated off the McAllister Freeway near San Antonio airport - the name was something I pulled out of my head, but I'd worked in the same sort of furniture restoration gig many years before and wanted to get my money's worth out of the experience. When I moved to San Antonio in 2011 I realised it would make more sense to relocate the imaginary JMB Restoration nearer to home, and this presently vacant commercial premises at the back of my local HEB supermarket just sort of leapt out at me. I passed by this place every day and it seemed right, and I had a vague idea of going at the picture so as to photoshop it into a mock up of Todd's workplace. Later, in fact much later, I noticed that the office adjacent to this empty building is occupied by a company called BNB Restoration, which seemed like one real fucker of a coincidence given that my variation of the name had been conceived at least a year earlier. I suppose it's likely that I subconsciously noticed the name of the actual business as I cycled past each day without realising, and was thus put in mind of my own fictitious variation, but the temptation to lump this in with all the other coincidences that popped up during writing is not without its appeal.

Whilst writing Against Nature I tried to avoid sending characters to too many places I hadn't been, with exceptions to the rule that will be obvious to anyone who reads the thing, so visual reference material was usually either photographs I had taken in that place, or photographs I had taken in places that were similar enough to work just as well. This wasn't really practical with House Meddhoran, so I cobbled this up using Gnu Image Manipulation. It  took longer than you might think, which is partially why it's ended up here as a blog post. I didn't want all that swearing to have been in vain.

For Primo, Todd, and House Meddhoran I had one primary image which I used as ambient reference material during writing. Conversely, Momacani's sections came about without reference to any single image, but rather a variety of pictures taken in Mexico over the years. The above is the ruins of Teotenanco, a fifteenth century Matlazinca centre near Toluca. Ancestral versions of Todd and Primo ended up in Teotenanco in The Other Side of the World, but it didn't feature in this version, so the reference material wasn't too culturally specific. For what it's worth, anyone visiting the Valley of Mexico and hoping to take in some of the Precolombian sites really shouldn't miss out on Teotenanco. It's off the beaten track, but easy enough to get to, and is more than worth it. Teotihuacan is huge and undeniably breathtaking, but its time has clearly passed. Teotenanco feels like it's still in use. Actually it's one of the most unsettling places I've ever been.

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